Friday, February 22, 2008

Possible Wrongful Conviction Appeals To Be Fast-Tracked

February 22, 2008

St. Catherine’s Standard-Ontario, Canada

The province is prepared to tackle possible wrongful convictions caused by disgraced pathologist Dr. Charles Smith by paving the way for cases to be appealed, says a senior official from the Attorney General's ministry.

Mary Nethery, director of the criminal law policy branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General, told a public inquiry on Thursday that there's a willingness to fast-track a process to determine whether extensions of deadlines to file appeals can be granted.

Normally, an individual has 30 days following a conviction to appeal.

But that window of opportunity has long since passed for up to eight individuals convicted of killing children, largely on the strength of Smith's evidence.

These parents and caregivers were convicted for the deaths of children between 1992 and 2002.

"We would be willing to set up an expedited process for dealing with the extension of time to appeal," she told the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario.

Nethery said she would rather see time and energy devoted to the appeals themselves rather than on the process of getting there.

"I do understand there can be some significant time and energy spent on the issue of just extending the time to appeal before you get to the heart of the matter, so we would certainly work with defence bar and the Ontario Court of Appeal to set up that kind of a process," she told a policy roundtable on potential wrongful convictions at the inquiry.

Five internationally renowned forensic pathologists reviewed Smith's cases and found that he erred in 20.

This resulted in individuals being suspected, charged, convicted or otherwise implicated in the deaths of children.

These highly regarded pathologists also testified that the science has evolved and changed when it comes to assessing brain injuries on children.

For example, what might have been viewed as a death from Shaken Baby Syndrome a decade ago might be seen as death from natural causes today.

Nethery said the testimony from these pathologists factored into the government's decision to fast-track the cases.

"The ministry wants to expedite those cases where there is this potential fresh evidence, for example evidence from eminent forensic pathologists presented at this inquiry that pathology evidence presented at trial was faulty or potentially, that the science has changed," she said.

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